Man accused of damaging Rothko painting in court

LONDON Wed Oct 10, 2012 11:50am EDT

A gallery worker walks past Seagram murals by Russian-born American painter Mark Rothko during a media view of the first major exhibition dedicated to his late works at the Tate Modern in London September 24, 2008. REUTERS/Andrew Winning

A gallery worker walks past Seagram murals by Russian-born American painter Mark Rothko during a media view of the first major exhibition dedicated to his late works at the Tate Modern in London September 24, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Andrew Winning

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LONDON (Reuters) - A Polish man accused of scrawling his signature on a painting by Mark Rothko worth tens of millions of dollars in a British museum pleaded not guilty to criminal damage on Wednesday.

Wlodzimierz Umaniec listened expressionlessly via video-link to the allegation that he stepped over a wire in front of Rothko's "Black on Maroon" in London's Tate Modern gallery on Sunday and wrote "Vladimir Umanets '12 A potential piece of yellowism" on the canvas.

The 26 year-old Polish national, who has lived in Britain for the last three years but has no fixed address in the country, was refused bail and will appear in court again on October 16.

His lawyer told the local London area Camberwell Green magistrates court that Umaniec would be denying the charge and was willing to stand trial.

"This may be cynical but he might welcome it, so he can have the discussion he wishes to have about the art," said defence solicitor David Clark.

The Tate Modern closed briefly on Sunday after witnesses reported the damage.

No precise value has been put on the damaged painting, but earlier this year Rothko's "Orange, Red, Yellow" sold for 53.8 million pounds ($86 million)in New York - the highest price paid for a piece of post-war art at auction.

(Reporting By Isla Binnie, editing by Paul Casciato)

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